Does not sacrifice any of the urgency that has always marked their work.
Cincinnati indie-rockers Wussy could have drifted further toward their country rock leanings, especially after they added pedal steel to the lineup. That move, surprisingly, contributed to their growing experimentation and focus on atmospheres and textures instead of the raw assertion of their early albums. What Heaven Is Like continues that movement, with the band utilizing a steady sense of control even amid their more rollicking songs and generally creating form and structure without sacrificing any of the urgency that has always marked their work.
In the middle of the album, “Aliens in Our Midst” brings all the facets of Wussy’s work together, despite being a Twinkeyz cover. It comes in the guise of a standard midtempo rock song. The initial groove is unexceptional, a casual alt-rock piece that would background a certain sort of music fan’s drive. Wussy doesn’t leave it at that, as Chuck Cleaver’s vocals become unexpectedly heated, turning from meditations on life among the stars to the challenges of being different hear on earth to put a voice to the five-year-old boy whose dad “beat him with a rubber hose” for wearing his sister’s clothes. As Cleaver’s frustrations become apparent, the guitars go with him, with feedback and surges moving asymmetrically through the second half of the song. The closing 30 seconds of shimmer echo the opening tones, but now as a climactic statement rather than as mood music for stargazing.
That look into the night harkens back to the album’s opener. “One Per Customer” asks, “Don’t you wish you could have been an astronaut/ Back when astronauts had more appeal?” The title hints at the limits of opportunity, but the song changes it into a take on humanity’s own limits, tangled as it is in violence and misdirection. Cleaver and Lisa Walker sing “one per customer” at times with melancholy and at times with a sneer, complicating the song with small touches. With this track as the album’s first statement, tracks like “Aliens in Our Midst” carry extra heft from the persistent challenges.
Some of that challenge comes from “Gloria,” Walker’s track about a character from Fargo, indebted to the TV series without relying on it. The band occasionally has the feel of a shoegaze act, particularly when the vocals are buried (previous album Forever Sounds showed more interest in this aesthetic), and here that approach supports the lyrical content, which largely fights for the very real presence of a woman and not just the imagined version of her, not just “a phantom or a memory or a girl you once kissed.” She very much exists, and Walker assumes both her being and her potency. The song stays just noisy enough to keep its edges, but keeps a strong melodic center.
The album closes slowly with “Black Hole,” drawn from a comics series about adolescence and isolation. The latter theme seems particularly relevant to Wussy right now. They’ve never shied from songs examining discord or outcasts, producing music that overcomes those struggles. As “Black Hole” overcomes strange physical mutations, Walker sings, “It’s the last time around,” and it’s a simultaneously ominous and comforting farewell for an album that’s done its work staring down monsters.